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Enjoy the season without giving in to gluttony


Write down what you eat. Drink water instead of peppermint mocha lattes. Start your day with exercise, use small serving spoons and bring something healthy to holiday buffets.

These were among the many tips offered during Healthy Eating During the Holidays and Beyond, a gathering held last week to help people enjoy the holidays without overloading on fatty, sugary foods.

Registered dietitian Nancy Farrell, of Farrell Dietitian Services, told the attending crowd that the holiday season is especially dicey for weight watchers because it stretches for 40 days and involves so much temptation.

And temptation can come in small forms, she said. Little chocolate kisses, for example, have about 25 calories each. Eat four and you’ve added 100 calories to your diet. Do that for 40 days and you’ve taken in an extra 4,000 extra calories. It takes 3,500 extra to gain a pound.

“So technically this year, if we’re not careful, we could gain more than a pound in that 40-day time period,” Farrell said.

Farrell, Dr. Nimali Fernando of the Doctor Yum Project and Becky Tate, a health-conscious Caroline County woman, shared tips for cultivating a healthy lifestyle during the 90-minute gathering in Fredericksburg.

Farrell advised people to think about who’s in control—you, or the food?

She also stressed the importance of starting your day with exercise.

“What this is going to do is help jump-start your metabolism and get you to burn those calories efficiently all day long,” she said. “And, you’ll feel better about yourself.”

Other tips from Farrell:

  • Emphasize food quality over quantity. “The first bite is always the best bite. And eating more is not going to taste any better, and in the end, it might make you feel worse.”
  • Use a small spoon instead of a big one when dishing out food. And if you eat pizza, cut the pie into 16 slices instead of 8. “We always eat the same number of pieces of pizza,” she said. “You always eat two, but the size can make a big difference.”
  • If you drink one of those warm, flavored drinks popular this time of year, “you have to think of it as a dessert.”
  • Bring a healthy dish to holiday gatherings, and “don’t stand and socialize by the buffet table.”

Fernando, a pediatrician who advocates healthy eating through her nonprofit Doctor Yum Project, talked to the crowd about the importance of changing a family’s food culture.

She advocated three steps for helping families eat better:

  • Prioritize healthy eating by planning good meals and cooking at home. “On any given day, 40 percent of adolescents are eating fast food,” she said. And fast food can add an extra 300 calories to a person’s daily diet.
  • Limit sugar consumption by “being aware of all the different names for sugar that you might see on a label.” Also, drink water and get your kids to drink it. Fruit juice, she noted, “can contain as much sugar as soda.”
  • Limit snacking. “American children are eating all the time,” she said. “In many other cultures, kids eat at mealtimes.” Set specific snacking times and provide a balanced snack plate, not processed foods.

During the holidays, Fernando advised making healthy substitutions for fatty, sugary ingredients in favorite recipes. She said she’s taken some of the butter and sugar out of her family’s sweet potato casserole, and she’s added in some flax meal. “And I noticed that nobody noticed, and it was just as good.”

Also consider incorporating a seasonal salad into your holiday feasts. Winter fruits like pomegranate and clementines make nice additions to salads, she said.

Like Farrell, Fernando also suggested staying active—play tag football instead of watching a game on TV, or take a walk around your neighborhood.

Tate, the Caroline County resident, shared her personal story of losing more than 130 pounds after her weight had risen to 311 pounds. She said she learned to control her addiction to food by keeping a detailed journal of everything she eats.

Tate suggested consulting an expert, such as a dietitian or doctor, for information and encouragement to get started on a weight-loss or fitness program. She also stressed the importance of figuring out what works for you.

Part of her motivation to lose weight came from knowing she needed to be healthy for her children after her husband died from cancer. And as she began to drop pounds during a weight-loss contest at work, she said she became further motivated by positive comments people made about her weight loss.

Keeping track of what she eats has been crucial to her improved fitness, she said. Taking notes has helped her learn what she can live without—such as mayonnaise on sandwiches—and what she wants to splurge on.

“It’s not that I never have a Hershey’s Kiss,” Tate said. “It’s just that I have to decide whether it’s worth it to me.”

Like Farrell, Tate said finding supportive friends to exercise with and offer encouragement is crucial when you’re on a fitness journey.

“I definitely echo what Nancy said about support, support, support,” Tate said. “Find the people that support you.”

Making healthy choices—now and year-round—isn’t about going to extremes or trying to be perfect, the speakers said. It’s about blending healthy choices into the fabric of your life—at least most of the time.

“I’m not asking for perfection,” Farrell said. “I need you to be on the ball 80 percent of the time.”

Janet Marshall: 540/374-5527;